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Updated: 1 hour 49 min ago

Cyclospora Surge: 125 Cases in 13 States

Fri, 07/25/2014 - 6:00pm

Federal officials from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) are now stepping in to assist health officials in 13 states in investigating a spike in cases of Cyclosporiasis, according to CIDRAP. Cyclosporiasis is an intestinal infection caused by the ingestion of food or water contaminated with the parasite Cyclospora.

In total, 125 cases have been reported with no lead on a source.

At least 61 cases have been found in Texas alone. The other states with cases are: Connecticut, Florida, Georgia, Illinois, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Montana, New Jersey, New York, Oregon and Tennessee.

Officials aren’t yet calling this an outbreak since it is unclear whether all of the cases are related.

Patients are currently being interviewed about international travel, with 19 so far reporting that they had recently traveled internationally, while another 35 had not. Cyclospora is more common in some tropical countries.

Symptoms of Cyclosporiasis include watery, sometimes explosive diarrhea, as well as loss of appetite, stomach cramps, nausea, vomiting, fatigue and bloating. If not treated, these symptoms may last anywhere from days to a month or more, with the potential for relapse.

Last year, a Cyclosporiasis outbreak linked to imported salad mix and fresh cilantro sickened 631 people in 25 states.

Previous Cyclosporiasis outbreaks in the U.S. have been linked to imported fresh produce such as lettuce, salad mix, snow peas, raspberries, cilantro and basil.

Carob Powder Recalled for Possible Salmonella Contamination

Fri, 07/25/2014 - 3:30pm

Earth Circle Organics is recalling its Organic Carob Powder after the company was notified by its supplier that the product could be contaminated with Salmonella.

Products were sold to distributors and retail outlets in North America.

 Product SKU  Lot # UPC Code Exp Date CRBP16ow 3642; 3404; 3221; 3267 894932002283 6/5/2015 CRBP5lb 3405; 3262 894932002733  6/5/2015  CBP20lb  3487; 3387; 3292 813313011485  6/5/2015  CRBP55lb  201901; 196201; 194801; 188901; 0786 894932002740  6/5/2015

 

The following products have been sold in British Columbia and Alberta, and may have been sold in other Canadian provinces or through Internet sales.

Brand Name Common Name Size Code(s) on Product UPC Earth Circle Organics Organic Carob Powder 16 oz 3642, 3404, 3221, 3267 8 94932 00228 3 Earth Circle Organics Organic Carob Powder 5 lb 3405, 3262 8 94932 00273 3 Earth Circle Organics Organic Carob Powder 20 lb 3487, 3387, 3292 8 13313 01148 5 Earth Circle Organics Organic Carob Powder 55 lb 201901, 196201, 194801, 188901, 0786 8 94932 00274 0 Harmonic Arts Botanical Dispensary Carob Raw Powder (Ceratonia siliqua) Organic 75 g 3405 1 37101 67696 1 Harmonic Arts Botanical Dispensary Carob Raw Powder (Ceratonia siliqua) Organic ½ lb(227 g) 3405, 3262 1 37101 61636 3 Harmonic Arts Botanical Dispensary Carob Raw Powder (Ceratonia siliqua) Organic 2 lb 3405 None Harmonic Arts Botanical Dispensary Carob Raw Powder (Ceratonia siliqua) Organic 10 lb 3405 None

 

Dancing Star LLC, of Buckland, MA, has also issued a recall for various snacks because they contain organic carob powder from Ciranda Inc., in Hudson, WI. The products in this recall include:

Dancing Star brand:

  • Carob Supergreens Chunks of Energy (10# UPC 7-69270-20005–2), production lots (0844-1, 0844-2, 0844-3, 0954-1, 0954-2, 0954-3, 0954-4, 0994-1, 0994-2, 1014, 1094-1, 1094-2, 1094-3, 1154-1, 1154-2, 1154-3, 1154-4, 1574, 1634-1,1634-2, 1634-3, 1644, 1684, 1744-1, 1744-2, 1744-3, 1824-1, 1824-2, 1924-1, 1924-2, 1994).
  • Carob Supergreens Chunks of Energy (7 oz UPC 7-69270-70008-8), production lot 1014.
  • Date Flax with Turmeric Chunks of Energy (10# UPC 7-69270-20004-5), production lots (0794-1, 0794-2, 0794-3, 0954, 1004, 1084, 1124, 1134-1, 1134-2, 1134-3, 1134-4, 1134-5, 1624-3, 1784-1, 1914, 1974).
  • Date Flax Turmeric Chunks of Energy (7 oz UPC 7-69270-70006-4), production lot 1004.

Rave Bites Brand:

  • Rave Bites Carob Supergreens (7oz UPC 7-69270-70008-8), Sell By Date 6/06/15.
  • Rave Bites Date Flax with Turmeric (7oz UPC 7-69270-70006-4), Sell By Dates 4/10/15 and 4/25/15.

Bulk Carob Powder:

  • Bulk organic Carob powder (10# UPC 7-69270-80001-6) Julian dates (0154, 0914, 0974, 0994, 1044, 1054, 1114, 1154, 1194, 1534, 1684, 1704, 1824, 1894).

Consumers who have purchased these products with the above-stated lot numbers and expiration dates are asked not to consume the product and discard it or return the product to the original point of purchase.

Salmonella is an organism which can cause serious and sometime fatal infections in young children, frail, or elderly people and others with weakened immune systems. Healthy persons infected with Salmonella often experience fever, diarrhea (which may be bloody), nausea, vomiting and abdominal pain. In rare circumstances, infection with Salmonella can result in the organism getting into the bloodstream and producing more severe illnesses such as arterial infections (e.g., infected aneurysms), endocarditis and arthritis.

UC Davis, Chinese University to Establish Joint Food Safety Center in China

Fri, 07/25/2014 - 1:04am

Officials with the University of California – Davis, and a China agricultural university in Shaanxi province signed an agreement this week to establish the Sino-U.S. Joint Research Center for Food Safety in China.

The signing ceremony was held Wednesday in the city of Yingchuan, China, during a meeting that also included officials from the U.S. Department of Agriculture and China’s Ministry of Science and Technology.

The five-year agreement calls for the two universities — UC Davis and China’s Northwest Agricultural and Forestry University — to form a joint research team, carry out collaborative research projects and cooperate on other food safety-related projects.

UC Davis’ World Food Center will name a director to coordinate the research program, and the Chinese partners will provide funding for the new center. Students from both UC-Davis and China will be offered opportunities to study and train in each other’s countries.

In a statement, UC Davis Chancellor Linda Katehi hailed the agreement as “a landmark event for UC Davis and for our World Food Center and serves as yet another indication of our worldwide leadership in food and health.” She added that the partnership “will promote food safety in China and around the world.”

Officials said a Sept. 23 event will provide more specific details for the new center and be held in conjunction with festivities celebrating the 80-year anniversary of China’s Northwest Agricultural and Forestry University.

Auditor Gave Positive Food Safety Reviews to Farms Later Linked to Outbreaks

Fri, 07/25/2014 - 1:03am

The third-party food safety auditor that gave a passing review to Jensen Farms just weeks before its cantaloupe caused a deadly Listeria outbreak in 2011 also gave a positive audit to the farm that shipped romaine lettuce implicated in a more recent E. coli outbreak tied to Trader Joe’s branded salads, according to documents obtained by Food Safety News.

California-based PrimusLabs gave a score of more than 95 percent to Ratto Bros. farms in Modesto, CA, in August 2013. Two months later, in October 2013, at least 33 people fell ill with E. coli O157:H7 in an outbreak that implicated as the most likely source of contamination romaine lettuce distributed by Ratto Bros., grown by Lake Bottom Farms, and sold in Trader Joe’s and Walgreen’s salads.

After the E. coli outbreak, officials with the California Department of Health visited Ratto Bros. and took environmental samples nearby. Five out of 44 samples tested positive for E. coli, though the samples were not a genetic match with the outbreak strain and were not taken on the farm.

PrimusLabs originally scored Ratto Bros. at 95.91 percent out of 100 for food safety management and good agricultural practices. The farm lost points for having animal activity on one ranch in the form of birds, as well as having dogs on adjacent land and a water source — a canal — that was accessible to animals.

After Ratto Bros. was given an opportunity for corrective action, PrimusLabs improved their score to 99.32, with the remaining lone problem being that animals still technically had access to the canal despite the farm taking a number of other steps to prevent contamination of the canal water.

PrimusLabs gave a similarly high score to Jensen Farms in the summer of 2011, just weeks before consumers began falling ill in August 2011 with Listeria infections from cantaloupes grown at the farm. At least 146 people were sickened and 33 died from their infections.

 

Could Funding Cuts to Food Safety Programs Make You Sick?

Fri, 07/25/2014 - 1:02am

(This blog post by Michelle Forman was published July 23, 2014, at APHL’s LabLog.com and is reposted here with permission.)

When public health works, no one sees it.

That’s a common adage at APHL and is most frequently used when referring to the gross lack of — and ever-plummeting — funding for valuable public health programs. But what does it mean? When do we see public health and when does it vanish into the background?

The public health system comprises many areas from healthy eating to smoking cessation to biomonitoring to newborn screening. To answer this question, we’re going to focus on food safety — something that impacts every person in the United States — by following the journey of peanuts as they pass through the food system and into your lunch bag.

(Note: Peanuts were chosen to make a point. They are not inherently risky. As of the original date of this post, there is no current known outbreak associated with peanuts. This journey could feature any food item.)

Our peanuts were grown on a large farm that distributes its harvests for use in many different products.

After being roasted, they are shipped to another facility to be ground into a paste. That paste is then used to make peanut butter for cookies, crackers, ice cream, dog treats and many other products.

In a perfect situation, our peanuts are grown using the safest growing practices: They are thoroughly roasted to kill pathogens acquired on the farm, processed in facilities that ensure utmost safety and cleanliness in accordance with all food safety guidance provided to them, and sent to stores, restaurants and other food service facilities where they will be purchased and consumed by families trusting that they are receiving peanut butter crackers free of Salmonella. Public health has worked in the form of inspectors, guidelines, regulations, sample testing, quality assurance, staff training and public education to ensure that a perfect situation can and will exist most of the time. Although you never saw public health working to prevent you from getting sick, it was there.

Even when all goes right — even when there are not blatant safety oversights along the way — sneaky Salmonella can find its way in. What then?

Our peanuts have picked up Salmonella after roasting (there’s likely no more heating to kill that nasty pathogen) in the processing facility. They are then mixed with more and more peanuts, shipments from other farms, passing through machine after machine, being ground into peanut paste, infecting huge lots of peanuts along the way. Our peanuts are now causing a silent outbreak deep within the processing facility.

The lots of infected peanut paste — soon to be peanut butter — go unsuspected and are sent to the next phase of processing where they will become cookies, crackers, ice cream, dog treats, etc.

Suzy Public loves peanut butter cookies, so she picks up a package during a routine grocery store visit. Two days later, Suzy is very sick.

Vomiting takes a turn to more severe symptoms, so Suzy does the right thing and heads to her doctor. In keeping with clinical care guidelines, Suzy’s doctor orders a stool sample, which is then sent to a clinical lab where it tests positive for Salmonella. This is obviously important information for Suzy’s doctor, who needs to determine the most effective treatment, but it is also important for the public at large, especially for those in her community.

Additional testing at the public health laboratory could link Suzy’s Salmonella to other cases in her area or across the country.

While clinical labs must submit a report alerting epidemiologists of Suzy’s Salmonella, many states don’t require clinical labs to submit isolates (a sample of the Salmonella that made Suzy sick) to the public health lab. The report allows epidemiologists to gather initial exposure information on cases, but identifying potential outbreaks among sporadic cases can be tough without additional information. An isolate allows the public health lab to subtype or get DNA fingerprints from the Salmonella (more on this below), providing greater information and more rapid outbreak detection. So why wouldn’t states require these isolates be submitted? There are likely different reasons for this; one common reason is simply that the states lack resources. Some states can afford to have a courier pick up and deliver those isolates, but not every state is able. It is hard to mandate that the clinical labs handle shipments on their own time and dime. Additionally, some states simply cannot process all of those isolates at their current funding level. Requiring all clinical labs to send those isolates would put an enormous workload on already understaffed public health laboratories.

Once the investigation has been opened, an epidemiologist or public health nurse will contact Suzy Public to begin the investigation to nab the culprit. The first question they will ask Suzy is to list everything she consumed in the week or so prior to getting sick. These interviews allow disease detectives to track patterns in sick individuals’ diets. If everyone ate peanut butter crackers, they can target their investigation.

Delays in testing or reporting will delay these disease detectives, and that means Suzy and the others who were made ill may not remember so far back. Even if they do remember and the disease detectives can identify a common food item in their diets, that product may already be off the shelves and in more people’s homes, thus exacerbating the outbreak. Additionally, departments of public health face staff shortages that mean overloaded epidemiologists and public health nurses. Their ability to conduct thorough interviews requires ample time — and time is limited when staff are carrying a workload suited for several people.

If that isolate was sent to the public health lab, additional testing is done to confirm Salmonella and to subtype the pathogen. There are more than 2,500 subtypes of Salmonella, so the first step in outbreak detection is determining which type has made this individual sick. PFGE testing delves further into the identification of the pathogen by identifying its DNA fingerprint. For example, there could be multiple outbreaks associated with Salmonella Typhimurium at the same time, but that doesn’t mean it is the same culprit. Isolating the DNA fingerprints is like a detective pulling fingerprints from a crime scene — when there are multiple offenses committed, fingerprints can link them to the same perpetrator. The DNA fingerprints are then entered into the PulseNet database, a system used to detect clusters nationally. This information is used by epidemiologists to further target their investigation.

But staff shortages in public health laboratories mean that not all isolates can be tested, and those that are tested could be delayed. That means less information is making its way into the PulseNet database, or it is being entered too late.

Delays or gaps in information make the investigation extremely difficult.

The case of the contaminated peanuts is a complicated one. We know the contaminated peanut butter used to make Suzy’s cookies caused her illness, but identifying those cookies as the source is only the beginning of the investigative process. Was it the flour, sugar, salt, eggs, peanuts, or one or more of the other ingredients that made Suzy sick? And what about the people who were sickened by peanut butter crackers? Or energy bars? Finding the common denominator — and drilling all the way down to where contamination occurred — is very difficult. These complicated investigations can last upwards of a year, but they are being closed without resolution simply because public health departments don’t have the means to keep them open. No resolution means contamination at the processing facility could continue and more people could become ill. It also means the rest of the industry cannot learn from the outbreak and implement changes to improve product safety.

Rapid detection leads to faster recalls of contaminated products. That means fewer people get sick. But our public health system does not have the means to investigate every case of foodborne illness. There are not enough resources to follow up on every cluster.

Without question, more outbreaks would be found if there were sufficient resources to detect and investigate them all. Simply put, funding cuts are ultimately causing more people to get sick.

Advocates continue to work hard to convince decision makers that increasing funding for the public health system is a very good investment in our population. Healthy people are better for every aspect of society. While the advocates are working, public health professionals continue to seek more ways to improve the system with fewer staff and fewer resources. Whole genome sequencing, for example, could provide more information to better understand outbreak clusters, and that could mean less follow-up testing, which could mean operating with fewer staff. However, implementation of advancements such as whole genome sequencing requires time and money that the system simply does not have.

Every day that you wake up without foodborne illness, thank the public health system. Waking up healthy did not happen without the dedicated men and women working hard to prevent the spread of dangerous bacteria.

When public health works, no one sees it, but it still needs adequate support to continue protecting our health. The disease identification system described above operates on only $40 million annually and is in immediate need of at least an additional $10 million as indicated in the 2015 budget request. To realize significant improvements, CDC funding for food safety should, at a minimum, be doubled.

Tell Congress that more money is needed for food safety! Follow these two simple steps:

  1. Here is a letter telling Congress that more funding is needed for public health. Complete the information and it will be sent to your elected officials.
  2. Copy the following sentence and paste it into the letter to draw attention to the specific needs for food safety: I am especially concerned with the need for funding to improve our nation’s food safety system. CDC’s food safety office is in immediate need of an additional $10 million as indicated in the 2015 budget request. Without this funding, more Americans will get sick from foodborne illness.

Ruling on FDA’s Oversight of Animal Antibiotic Use Called a ‘Big Blow to Public Health’

Fri, 07/25/2014 - 1:01am

In a 2-1 decision, the U.S. Second Circuit Court of Appeals in New York ruled Thursday that the U.S. Food and Drug Administration is not required to hold hearings concerning the safety of feeding antibiotics at subtherapeutic levels.

The ruling overturns two district court rulings from 2012 in a case initially filed in 2011 by the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC), the Center for Science in the Public Interest, Food Animal Concerns Trust, Public Citizen, and the Union of Concerned Scientists.

The groups argue that FDA is required by statute to hold hearings to determine whether to withdraw approval for the use of penicillin and tetracyclines in animal feed after the agency declared that the subtherapeutic use of the drugs in animal feed “ha[s] not been shown to be safe” in the late 1970s.

Such hearings would be a requirement for industry to prove that the use of these drugs as approved is safe.

“If they were not able to do that, then FDA would have to proceed with withdrawing the approvals for those drugs, which would effectively ban those drugs in animals for food production,” said Keeve Nachman, a scientist at the Johns Hopkins Center for a Livable Future.

NRDC says that not requiring hearings means FDA “does not have to consider banning” the practice of feeding antibiotics to healthy animals.

“The science was there in 1977 and 40 years later, it’s only gotten stronger that these low-dose, routine use of antibiotics on livestock is causing development of antibiotic-resistant bacteria and that bacteria is coming off the farm in many different ways and affecting humans,” said Mae Wu, an attorney with NRDC’s health program.

“Today’s decision allows the FDA to openly declare that a particular animal drug is unsafe, but then refuse to withdraw approval of that drug,” wrote Judge Robert Katzmann in his dissent. “It also gives the agency discretion to effectively ignore a public petition asking it to withdraw approval from an unsafe drug. I do not believe the statutory scheme can be read to permit those results.”

Part of FDA’s argument in the case has been Guidance #213, which will ban the use of antibiotics for growth promotion in food animals, as an alternative strategy for dealing with resistance. But NRDC and other groups have argued that it won’t be effective at curbing antibiotic use on farms because “disease prevention” labels could simply replace those for growth promotion.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that at least 23,000 people die each year from antibiotic-resistant infections.

“Because of the link between antibiotic use in food-producing animals and the occurrence of antibiotic-resistant infections in humans, antibiotics should be used in food-producing animals only under veterinary oversight and only to manage and treat infectious diseases, not to promote growth,” reads CDC’s report on antibiotic resistance threats, released last September.

Today’s decision was a “big blow to public health,” Nachman said. “It’s tough to know where it’s going to go from here. I would expect that NRDC would appeal this decision in some manner; I would hope they would.”

When asked if NRDC plans to appeal Thursday’s ruling, Wu told Food Safety News, “I can’t say today what we’re going to do because it takes a lot more discussion, but we’re not discounting any options at this point.”

Texas Firm Recalls Sandwiches and Wraps for Possible Listeria Contamination

Thu, 07/24/2014 - 8:54pm

Great American Marketing of Houston, TX, is recalling approximately 475 pounds of FSIS- and FDA-regulated ready-to-eat products due to possible contamination with Listeria monocytogenes, the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) announced Thursday.

The sandwich and wrap products were produced on July 15, 2014, and then shipped to retail locations in Texas. Case labels or packaging may bear the sell-by date of 07/26/14.

Products regulated by FSIS bear the establishment number “EST 31680” or “P-31680” inside the USDA mark of inspection. The following FSIS-regulated products are subject to recall (view labels here):

  • 7.4 ounce plastic-covered tray packages containing Chicken Caesar Wraps.
  • 8.1 ounce plastic-covered tray packages containing Club Wraps.

FDA-regulated products being recalled include (view labels here):

  • 10.5 ounce plastic-covered tray packages containing Ham and Cheddar Premium sandwiches.
  • 10.5 ounce plastic-covered tray packages containing Turkey & Swiss Premium sandwiches.

The problem was discovered when FSIS collected a sample of a separate product on July 15, 2014, that was confirmed positive for L. monocytogenes on July 21. The sampled product was held. However, the plant produced the additional FSIS- and FDA-regulated products listed in this recall without conducting a complete clean-up of the production equipment. Those products have entered commerce and are subject to recall.

FSIS and the company have received no reports of illnesses associated with consumption of these products.

FSIS and the company are concerned that some product may be frozen and in consumers’ freezers. FSIS advises all consumers to reheat ready-to-eat product until steaming hot.

Consumers with questions regarding this recall can contact Bill Welch at (713) 682-6471.

Consumption of food contaminated with L. monocytogenes can cause Listeriosis, a serious infection that primarily affects older adults, persons with weakened immune systems, and pregnant women and their newborns. Less commonly, persons outside these risk groups are affected.

Listeriosis can cause fever, muscle aches, headache, stiff neck, confusion, loss of balance and convulsions sometimes preceded by diarrhea or other gastrointestinal symptoms. An invasive infection spreads beyond the gastrointestinal tract. In pregnant women, the infection can cause miscarriages, stillbirths, premature delivery or life-threatening infection of the newborn.

In addition, serious and sometimes fatal infections can occur in older adults and persons with weakened immune systems. Listeriosis is treated with antibiotics. Persons in the higher-risk categories who experience flu-like symptoms within two months after eating contaminated food should seek medical care and tell the health care provider about eating the contaminated food.

FSIS routinely conducts recall effectiveness checks to verify recalling firms notify their customers of the recall and that steps are taken to make certain that the product is no longer available to consumers. When available, the retail distribution list(s) will be posted on the FSIS website at http://www.fsis.usda.gov/recalls.

Update: 22 Potential E. coli Cases Reported on Minnesota Indian Reservation

Thu, 07/24/2014 - 12:05pm

The Minnesota Department of Health has confirmed that at least 22 people on the Fond du Lac Band of Lake Superior Chippewa Reservation near Duluth have recently been sickened by foodborne illness linked to E. coli bacteria. The first illness was reported July 17.

The investigation is ongoing, but no specific cause has yet been found. The outbreak strain is believed to be E. coli O157, according to a department spokesman, which is not the one recently linked to Applebee’s restaurants in Minnesota.

The sickened reservation residents are being called and interviewed by a state epidemiologist, an environmental health supervisor and University of Minnesota graduate epidemiology students, the spokesman said.

Recent events on the reservation, including powwows, picnics, weddings, potlucks and outdoors meetings, have likely contributed to opportunities for foodborne illness. Residents were encouraged to throw away any leftover foods from these events.

Those experiencing symptoms of foodborne illness are advised to contact a health care provider or the local emergency room. More information and specific symptoms related to E. coli infection is available here.

The Minnesota Department of Health has provided the following contact numbers: toll free is 1-877-FOOD ILL (1-877-366-3455) or 1-651-201-5277 for individuals who have questions or would like to learn more about E. coli or any other foodborne illness. They advise callers to leave a message and someone will call back promptly.

Whole Foods Market Recalls Made-in-Store Items Containing Recalled Fruit

Thu, 07/24/2014 - 11:04am

Whole Foods Market has announced that it has recalled made-in-store items prepared with organic and conventional stone fruit, including peaches, nectarines and plums, from Wawona Packing Co. because of possible contamination with Listeria monocytogenes.

Made-in-store items that contained one or more fruits subject to the Wawona Packing Co. recall were sold between June 1 and July 21. Not all items or all products were sold in all store locations. Affected made-in-store items such as cakes, tarts, salsas and prepared salads were sold in Whole Foods Market stores using Whole Foods Market scale labels in all states where Whole Foods Market stores are located except Florida, Washington and Oregon.

Additionally, Whole Foods Market pulled and destroyed the recalled stone fruit sold in all regions where it was available, which may have been labeled with a “Sweet 2 Eat” sticker. For a list of made-in-store items that have been affected by state, please check this web page.

Whole Foods Market was notified by Wawona Packing Co. that the various stone fruits were recalled due to a positive test result for Listeria monocytogenes.

Signage is posted in Whole Foods Market stores to notify customers of this recall. Customers who have purchased recalled product from Whole Foods Market should discard it and may bring in their receipt for a full refund. Consumers with questions may call 512-477-5566, extension 20060, Monday through Friday, 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. CDT.

Listeria monocytogenes is an organism which can cause serious and sometimes fatal infections in young children, frail or elderly people, and others with weakened immune systems. Although healthy individuals may suffer only short-term symptoms such as high fever, severe headache, stiffness, nausea, abdominal pain and diarrhea, Listeria infection can cause miscarriages and stillbirths among pregnant women.

Time is Short for PCA Pre-Trial Motion Since Jury Selection Begins Monday

Thu, 07/24/2014 - 1:03am

UPDATE:  In a ruling from the bench that came after a one hour and 13 minute hearing Friday afternoon, U.S. District Court Judge W. Louis Sands denied defendant Mary Wilkerson’s motion to have all charges agains her dismissed.   Her trial of with two other former former Peanut Corporation of America (PCA) executives will begin Monday with jury selection in Albany, GA.

U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) attorneys tore into Wilkerson’s request, which suggests that government charges should either be dismissed or her trial separated from that of Stewart and Michael Parnell, the brothers who hail from a Virginia family that has long made peanuts their business.

Writing for the government, DOJ attorney Patrick H. Hearn pointed out that Wilkerson joined in an earlier motion to dismiss that Sands denied. As for the request to sever her trial from the two others, Hearn cited precedent.

“The Supreme Court has explained that ‘there is a preference in the federal system for joint trials of defendants who are indicted together,’” he wrote, from the 1993 case of Zafiro v. United States. Hearn said the rule of trying co-defendants together “is particularly true in conspiracy cases.” Conspiracy and fraud charges are the centerpiece of the government’s criminal litigation against the former PCA executives.

Wilkerson is charged with two counts of obstruction of justice, a pair of felonies that carry the possibility of 10 years in jail. She began working for PCA as a receptionist at the company’s peanut processing facility in Blakely, GA, in April 2002, eventually being promoted to office manager. She became the quality assurance manager in March 2008, just in time for the Salmonella outbreak that would bring down the company less than a year later.

Her Albany, GA attorney, Thomas G. Ledford, renewed Wilkerson’s request for dismissal because he claims the government has violated his client’s Fifth and Sixth Amendment rights.

Ledford, who has consistently charged the government with leaving the defense “buried in millions of useless documents,” reiterated his concerns over the late arrivals from both the prosecution and DOJ’s independent “taint team” which is reviewing documents from business law firms that did work for PCA before the outbreak occurred.

Late delivery of prosecution documents already delayed the start of the trial by two weeks. The government now says its June 30 document delivery involves 3,710 “unique documents,” not 100,000 documents as the defense figured.

In his response, Hearn provided guidance for searching DVDs for specific documents. However, Ledford pointed out that even after getting “taint team” evidence, it took several more days to obtain passwords.

If there is no action, or if the judge denies her motion, Wilkerson will join former PCA chief executive officer Stewart Parnell and his peanut broker brother, Michael Parnell, at the defendant’s table in the Albany, GA, federal courthouse on Monday.

Stewart Parnell is charged with multiple counts of conspiracy, wire fraud, obstruction of justice and introducing food into interstate commerce that was misbranded and adulterated. All together, he’s facing 69 federal felonies.

The 43 felony charges against Michael Parnell include multiple counts of conspiracy, interstate shipments fraud, wire fraud, and introduction of food that was misbranded and adulterated into interstate commerce.

If the trial gets underway Monday with jury selection, it will end 75 weeks of pre-trial sparring between the three teams of defense attorneys and government prosecutors.

The criminal charges were brought four years after a Salmonella outbreak associated with PCA products sickened more than 700 people and killed nine. The trial is expected to take eight weeks.

Process and Substance in Third-Party Food Safety Audits

Thu, 07/24/2014 - 1:02am

As the result of numerous national and international outbreaks of foodborne illness, food industries worldwide have come under increasing pressure to ensure that their products are safe, wholesome and meet government standards. FDA and USDA have the primary authority for our food supply nationally, while individual states typically regulate local food operations through state and county departments of agriculture and health.

The public health burden of foodborne illness in the U.S. is significant, with many thousands hospitalized. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports these agents are responsible for 3,000 deaths a year.

Outbreaks of foodborne illness cost the U.S. food industry untold millions in claims and legal fees yearly, as well as cause crises and business disruptions. (One law firm alone has recovered more than $500 million in damages for clients affected by foodborne illness.)

In response, the world’s major retailers now require that their suppliers, growers, packers, processors and manufacturers of food prove adherence to their standards for safety and quality. Auditing companies, hired by the suppliers themselves, now inspect many thousands of food operations a year around the globe. Such inspection numbers may actually rival or even surpass what government is able to do, making the private regulation of food safety both big business and an important public health issue.

Auditors follow a set of standards and guidelines developed by the standard owner provided through the Certification Body (CB). The process for creating a “third party standard” is in itself regulated by the International Standards Organization, better known as ISO. Many CBs use these ISO-accredited private standards. Other standards are used that have no accreditation, but, in either case, the CB pays a percentage of the proceeds from auditing back to the standard holder or owner. The ISO-accredited standards are developed through an open and transparent consensus process that involves the buyers and sellers of products, government, the scientific community and other interested parties. Many standards can be found on the websites of the organizations providing such services. In addition, there are guidelines produced that help to guide the auditing process and put policies and procedures in place for the execution of the audit.

Ultimately, audits provide the buyer with assurance that suppliers meet the standards they adopt. The expectation is that of limiting liability by demonstrating due diligence in sourcing raw materials. However, such findings do not necessarily protect the exposure of a seller or buyer if there is an outbreak or if a consumer is made ill or injured. Even when firms have satisfactory audit findings, they may be sued under the doctrine of “strict liability.” In such legal cases, the plaintiff does not have to prove negligence, only that “they were injured by a product,” and the product was in some way “defective,” e.g., it was adulterated.

The goal of any food safety program, then, should be to prevent foodborne illness or injury. The independent third-party food safety audit can be a tool to further this goal, but such audits are not currently particularly capable of protecting public health as they are more focused on limiting the buyer’s legal liability. However, when third-party standards are followed, they undoubtedly reduce the potential for illnesses to occur. Adherence to them is likely leading to better food safety, but recent events have revealed significant flaws in the third-party audit model.

Much has been written about the 2011 Listeria monocytogenes outbreak in cantaloupe that claimed the lives of 33 victims in one of the most devastating foodborne illness outbreaks of recent years. In the trial of the grower/packer, Eric Jensen, FDA opined that the auditor (employed by the CB that Mr. Jensen contracted with) was seriously deficient in his findings. The basis for FDA’s criticism is that the auditor found the operation to be at a 96-percent conformance rate with the standard (Superior) just days before the outbreak was identified, and he allegedly did not find many of the violations later reported by FDA. While FDA takes the position that the audit was flawed, the audit firm publicly supports the findings of the auditor. The auditing company, in spite of this criticism, stands behind the auditor and states, “He did his job with great care.”

This was not the first serious outbreak of foodborne illness where an auditor was criticized for giving a superior rating to a facility that was later shown to be unsanitary. In 2007, the Peanut Corporation of America knowingly distributed Salmonella-contaminated peanut products and caused a recall of more than 4,000 different foods, as well as taking the lives of seven persons and injuring many more. Although the facility was very poorly maintained and had a serious rodent problem, the auditor had given the firm a superior rating several months before.

Third-party audits clearly suffer from some serious drawbacks regarding public health protection. Private auditors have no authority to stop production or to embargo or condemn food products; this can only be done by regulatory agencies that have legal authority. In fact, auditors have no legal authority at all. Under the contract, the “auditee” can restrict the scope of the audit, stop an audit, or simply cancel it. The true power in the third-party model is the buyer. If the buyer is unhappy with the audit results, the buyer can cancel orders or put the supplier on some provisional status. The buyer can also choose not to do business with a supplier that opts out of being audited. Buyers, however, rarely exercise these powers since buyers typically need to have products and need to have as many sources of products as possible. Limiting competition over time puts the buyer in a poor position; therefore, price, availability and quality issues may outrank safety scores. It is well known in the industry that produce buyers especially can, and do, go outside the approved supply chain whenever they feel they need to.

If an auditor finds the potential for product adulteration, the best he/she can do to protect public health is down-score the item in the audit question, reducing the audit score (for example, failure to properly validate the sanitary quality of re-circulated water in a produce washing operation would result in a 10-point loss out of more than 1,000 available points). Less frequently, an auditor may actually see an actual contamination issue, such as broken glass in contact with food or fecal contamination. In these cases, the auditor can strike against the relevant question, and, if that question results in the failure of the audit (and very few questions do), the audit can stop, but only at the auditee’s request; the auditor has no ability to stop the audit.

Although an auditor may immediately advise the auditing firm of such hazardous findings, the findings may take several days to get to the buyer requesting the report. In the meantime, although it would be illegal to do so, the auditee might ignore the findings and continue selling and distributing contaminated products.

To summarize, auditors have no authority to stop production and very limited power to protect public health when they find adulterated products or the conditions that lead to that.

As an alternative, auditors cannot report such findings to authorities. Whistleblower rules under FDA do not afford protection to auditors who are under contract to keep audit findings confidential. Such contractual agreements preclude an auditor from reporting adulterated food or grossly insanitary conditions to local public health officials, FDA or USDA, although this may change under proposed FDA rules (FSMA).

Currently, auditors announce their visits, sometimes months in advance. The conditions an auditor might find on the day of the audit may be very different from the conditions otherwise maintained, making the audit findings highly biased. Experienced auditors will find telltale signs of neglect in a facility, but other gross problems may be temporarily covered up. The provision for unannounced audits is in the protocols of some certification bodies, but unannounced audits rarely occur.

Unlike their FDA counterparts, third-party auditors are precluded from taking tests or samples. Auditors must rely on the firm’s own testing and sampling records in order to validate many of the critical sanitation standards. Auditors may be restricted from taking product samples, performing ATP sanitation verification, using a pH or ORP meter, a thermometer, or using a titration or paper-based test for chemical concentration. Data from in-house tests can be flawed, but the auditor has no way to verify this except to ask at the time of the audit for a demonstration. This is a poor substitute for actually performing the test oneself because operators do not always follow the proper methods, and flaws in sampling are often detected during audits.

Especially in the auditing of fresh produce operations, much more scientific information is needed to strengthen the audit criteria. In the Jensen Farms case, for example, the court found that chlorine should have been used to sanitize the cantaloupe. However, the scientific literature does not support a significant reduction in Listeria with a chlorine wash once the organism has attached to a fruit. FDA guidance at the time of this outbreak did not specifically require the use of chlorine in single-use potable water used to wash and cool the cantaloupe. The audit standard used by the audit firm also did not specifically require the use of a sanitizer such as chlorine to sanitize single-use water. Uncertainty in the scientific basis for critical sanitation rules and changing perspectives about the need for controls makes the process for assessments volatile, and much more solid practical scientific information is sorely needed.

Equipment used in most food processing environments (operations that cut produce, or otherwise alter the form of raw products) must meet well-understood design standards for cleanliness and sanitation. Independent standard-setting bodies such as UL and NSF typically set design criteria for food processing equipment in regulated industries, but such certifications are lacking in operations packing whole fresh fruits and vegetables. At Jensen Farms, the packing equipment used did not have to meet pre-approval by any recognized body, yet FDA found that the condition of the packing line conveyor was a substantial contributing factor to the outbreak. An auditor is in a difficult position to make a determination about the acceptability of a variety of equipment under a wide variety of usage conditions without the aid of such certifications or agency pre-approvals.

Produce facilities currently do not need to meet a pre-approval process for their physical construction either. In the Jensen Farms outbreak, the failure to properly discharge and control wastewater was found to be significant by FDA, as were the condition of the floors, yet we have no published guidelines for construction of the facility itself. Given the wide variation in locations and variety of produce operations in general, the lack of a formal building code is a major hindrance to an effective audit.

The review of laboratory findings greatly strengthens the validity of audits, but only when the findings are verifiable and accurate and the sampling methods and results are free of bias. Unfortunately, the way the standard used was interpreted, testing of equipment was optional. If there was one thing that would have alerted the operation to the danger, it would have been a positive finding of Listeria in an equipment or environmental sample. If investigators can find the agent after the fact in food, it only makes sense that, especially with products with a known potential for causing illness, product and environmental testing results are critical to an evaluation of a firm’s true level of safety. This is another area that needs significant strengthening.

While audit companies are rightly focused on the process their auditors follow in executing an audit, it is clear that audit results, however true they might be to the standard and inspection protocol, often lack substance. It is also clear that auditors are not entirely capable of detecting unsafe operations the way audits are performed now, and they are totally ineffective at stopping such operations, even when they observe gross contamination of products.

Because the court in the Jensen Farms case has found that auditors have a legal and moral responsibility to protect public health, auditing companies and the food industry as a whole must address these basic weaknesses and solve the problem of auditors being responsible to protect public health without the legal authority to do so.

Groups Oppose Herbicide Approval, Citing Harm to Human Health and the Environment

Thu, 07/24/2014 - 1:01am

Although the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) said in April that it plans to permit a new weed killer called Enlist Duo onto the market, consumer advocates are attempting to dissuade the agency from doing so before a final decision is made.

The herbicide is a combination of 2,4-D and glyphosate and is made by Dow AgroSciences. If approved, it would be used on millions of acres of farm fields in combination with a new type of herbicide-resistant genetically engineered corn and soybean crops and at least triple the use of 2,4-D.

Glyphosate is the active ingredient in Roundup, the top-selling weed killer developed by Monsanto.

When announcing the agency’s inclination to approve Enlist Duo, EPA added that “the proposal would impose requirements on the manufacturer including robust monitoring and reporting to EPA, grower education and remediation and would allow EPA to take swift action to impose additional restrictions on the manufacturer and the use of the pesticide if resistance develops.”

EPA accepted public comments on the decision until June 30 and is expected to issue a final decision in late summer or early fall.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture, which must grant approval of the crops genetically engineered to tolerate Enlist Duo, said it was prepared to its grant approval in January. USDA’s comment period closed on March 11.

A number of farm, food, health, public interest, consumer, fisheries and environmental organizations submitted comments in opposition to the proposals, and the EPA docket received more than 25,000 comments in total. At the end of June, 35 scientists, medical professionals and researchers also wrote to EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy to urge the agency not to approve Enlist Duo.

On Wednesday, the Center for Food Safety and the Environmental Working Group hosted a briefing for congressional staffers to persuade members of Congress to pressure the two agencies to reject the proposals because of the potential negative impacts on the environment and human health.

Panelists at the event included Doug Gurian-Sherman, senior scientist at Center for Food Safety; John Wargo, professor of Environmental Health and Politics at Yale University; Dr. Philip Landrigan, dean for global health at Mount Sinai School of Medicine; Dr. Catherine Thomasson, executive director at Physicians for Social Responsibility, and Gary Hirshberg, co-founder of Stonyfield Farm and chairman of Just Label It.

The consumer advocates are concerned about the serious health risks associated with 2,4-D exposure, including non-Hodgkin lymphoma, suppressed immune function, lower sperm count, and a greater risk of Parkinson’s disease.

When pregnant women are exposed to pesticides of all kinds, their child can sustain learning disabilities, behavioral problems and possibly chronic diseases.

Safety advocates are also concerned that 2,4-D and glyphosate have not been tested for combined toxicity. “We’re very concerned that this combination is going to cause not only additive effects, but multiplicative or synergistic effects,” Thomasson said.

In terms of environmental effects, critics say that Enlist Duo will increase soils, surface and groundwater contamination and perpetuate the “pesticide treadmill,” which is when farmers use larger amounts of increasingly toxic chemicals to control herbicide-resistant weeds, eventually requiring the use of different chemicals. Hirshberg called the herbicide a “three- to five-year solution, at best” and compared it to the issue of antibiotics overuse contributing to drug resistance.

Rep. Chellie Pingree (D-ME), who spoke at the start of Wednesday’s briefing, said that the struggle over Enlist Duo ties into the fight for the labeling of genetically modified food. It’s not just about giving consumers the chance to know the source of their food, but to voice whether they want to support the system.

“It’s an issue that 90 percent of the American public thinks that we should move ahead with … but sometimes when I turn around and say to people, ‘So what’s the part that worries you most about it?,’ honestly a lot of people don’t understand the health risks or the concerns or what the implications of it are,” she said.

Pingree and Rep. Peter DeFazio (D-OR) are hoping that more members of Congress sign on to their letter to McCarthy and Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack urging them not to approve Enlist Duo and 2,4-D-resistant crops.

Illinois Meat and Poultry Processor Loses License for Repeated Violations

Wed, 07/23/2014 - 11:53pm

Parks Locker Service of Greenfield, IL, has had its license revoked by the Illinois Department of Agriculture for repeated violations of the state’s Meat and Poultry Inspection Act.

The closure followed a July 16 hearing in Springfield during which an administrative law judge heard testimony that department inspectors had identified 136 violations at the company’s Greene County facility between March 25 and June 17 which managers were either unwilling or unable to fix.

Most of the violations involved unsanitary conditions such as rust on meat hooks, water dripping onto meat rails, peeling paint on walls and ceilings near where meat was stored or processed, and holes in floors, walls and doors.

The license revocation is effective immediately, but the company can appeal the decision.

 

Salmonella, Inspection Problems Face Mexican Restaurant in Indiana

Wed, 07/23/2014 - 7:58pm

Complaints about Salmonella illnesses and health inspection problems are reportedly plaguing a Mexican restaurant in Carmel, IN.

Several diners who had recently eaten at the Agave Bar and Grill at 31 E. Main St. said they had been sickened by Salmonella, and some were reportedly hospitalized this week.

However, owner Alejandro Hernandez said the local health department had not found any of the bacteria on the premises and that he thought the problem might have originated with his suppliers.

Department inspectors cited the restaurant July 1 for more than 40 violations of health codes, including inadequate hot water for workers to wash their hands, raw chicken and beef left out at room temperature, freezers soiled with debris and employees not wearing hair restraints. Hernandez said then that he would be installing a second hot water heater.

A follow-up visit July 9 showed nine critical violations and nine non-critical ones, according to Larry Beard, a county health department inspector. Hernandez said that, as of July 22, all health code violations had been fixed.

Breads Withdrawn From Market For Potential Listeria Contamination

Wed, 07/23/2014 - 1:00pm

The Schwebel Baking Company announced Tuesday that it was voluntarily withdrawing certain bread products from the marketplace after finding Listeria in its Youngstown, Ohio, bakery during a scheduled environmental assessment.

The products were shipped directly to retail outlets, restaurants and institutions in Ohio, Pennsylvania, Indiana, New York, Michigan, West Virginia and Kentucky. Consumers can identify the products by the code located near the “best by” date. If the code begins with the letter “A,” the product is part of the voluntary withdrawal.

The unofficial recall includes Giant Eagle brand products.

Consumers should not consume these products. They should throw them out or return them to the store where they were purchased.

“Although there is no evidence at this point that any of our consumers or products have been impacted, we are taking this action as a precautionary measure to assure that our products are safe,” said Paul Schwebel, the company’s president.

After discovering the Listeria, the company halted production and alerted the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. None of Schwebel’s other bakeries are impacted.

Listeriosis, a serious infection usually caused by eating food contaminated with the bacterium Listeria monocytogenes, is an important public health problem in the U.S. The disease primarily affects older adults, pregnant women, newborns and adults with weakened immune systems. However, rarely, persons without these risk factors can also be affected. The risk may be reduced by recommendations for safe food preparation, consumption and storage.

Texas Reports Big Spike in Cyclosporiasis Cases

Wed, 07/23/2014 - 11:45am

Public health officials in Tarrant County, Texas, which includes the Dallas/Fort Worth/Arlington areas, are investigating a sudden surge in Cyclosporiasis, an intestinal infection caused by a parasite that can be ingested via contaminated food or water.

The statewide number of cases hit 61 in the past month, with eight of them being in Tarrant County. This compares with only eight statewide cases of Cyclosporiasis in Texas from January through May of this year.

Officials are advising healthcare providers to watch for and test patients with symptoms such as diarrhea that has lasted more than a few days or diarrhea plus fatigue. Symptoms usually start two days to two weeks after the parasite is ingested, are often accompanied by intestinal pain, and can mimic the stomach flu.

Previous Cyclosporiasis outbreaks in the U.S. have been linked to imported fresh produce such as lettuce, salad mix, snow peas, raspberries, cilantro and basil.

“To reduce your risk, we recommend thoroughly washing produce before consumption. Produce that is cooked is not a concern. It’s the raw produce like cilantro and salads that can be a problem,” said Russell Jones, chief epidemiologist for Tarrant County Public Health.

Aussie Listeria Tests Led to Recall of Likely Already Consumed California Fruit

Wed, 07/23/2014 - 1:03am

Back in the day, before the fresh fruit and produce industry managed to kill it, the Microbiological Data Program (MDP) came under fire from growers for not providing timely results, sometimes resulting in recalls of fruit that consumers had already eaten.

That was 18 months ago and MDP — the joint venture of about 10 state labs and the U.S. Department of Agriculture — dried up Dec. 31, 2012, when Congress withheld funding for the program, which cost only about $5 million a year. MDP did about 80 percent of the fresh fruit and vegetable testing in the U.S. and has not been replaced. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) did the remaining 20 percent of the fruit tests.

FDA Fresh Fruit and Produce Testing, 2009-13

Fiscal Year Sum of Unique Samples 2009

6243

2010

5967

2011

5882

2012

5174

2013

7592

Total

30858

FDA fruit tests, including both domestically grown and imported produce, amount to only a tiny slice of the fruit and vegetables we consume. And the summer’s largest fruit recall to date illustrates how fresh produce is still being consumed ahead of the tests results — in those few instances where testing exists.

While MDP is gone, other parties doing independent testing on fresh fruits and vegetables are at least some foreign importers. In this case, American consumers can send their thank-you notes to the Aussies.

An Australian importer on July 10 confirmed trace amounts of Listeria in fruit from California’s Wawona Packing Co. It would take nine more days — most taken up waiting for additional laboratory testing — before the Cutler, CA, company opted to order the recall for fruit packed between June 1 and July 12.

Ironically, the Aussie importer’s test of just three peaches found each with traces of Listeria that are within the tolerance levels for both Australia and New Zealand. But once Wawona learned of the results, it had another problem: FDA has a zero-tolerance policy for Listeria.

So the company hired a private laboratory to take additional samples, both inside its packing facility and from its fruit. Wawona shut down packing operations July 12 while it waited for the lab results to be returned. During the next five days, until July 17 when the lab returned Listeria-positive test results from two peaches and one nectarine, the packing company conducted additional cleaning and sanitation for all packing equipment and facilities.

The lab did not quantify the Listeria levels on the fruit that tested positive, so Wawona asked for further testing, which came back negative. Also, none of the environmental samples from equipment and inside the packinghouse were positive.

Wawona, however, went ahead with the recall because it said it felt compelled to do so by FDA’s zero-tolerance policy. The company continues to insist that it believes the actual risk to public health from the recalled fruit is “very low.” And 72 hours after the initial recall, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) said there were no Listeria cases associated with the Wawona fruit recall.

June and early July California-grown fruit was likely mostly consumed before the recall was announced due to testing lagging behind the fast delivery the fresh products require. In that sense, the Aussie importer was no better than MDP in getting ahead of the fruit crop.

However, it’s way too early to blow the all-clear horn because Listeria, a stubborn pathogen that withstands both heat and cold, also has a long incubation period. It can take up to 70 days after infection to the onset of illness. That means fruit consumed in June can make someone sick in September.

Canada Introduces Fines for Meat Safety Failures

Wed, 07/23/2014 - 1:02am

The Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) has amended its regulations so that it can fine meat processors for violations of food safety programs such as Hazard Analysis Critical Control Point (HACCP) and non-food safety issues such as labeling and consumer protection.

The new Administrative Monetary Penalties (AMPs) apply to 84 provisions of the Meat Inspection Act (MIA) and the Meat Inspection Regulations (MIR) and will be used when a licensed operator fails to “take timely and effective action on non-compliance.”

For example, companies could be fined if they don’t develop, implement and maintain control programs and procedures as described by HACCP; don’t possess and maintain equipment and material necessary to operate; or don’t develop, implement or maintain a written sanitation program.

The fines can range from $500 to $10,000, depending on the severity of the offense, intent and compliance history.

The AMPs Act 1995 provides authority to issue penalties for violations of a variety of agriculture and food acts such as the Feeds Act, the Fertilizers Act, the Health of Animals Act, the Plant Protection Act and the Meat Inspection Act. The AMPs have been phased in for these acts over the years.

When the Safe Food for Canadians Act is finalized, AMPs will be applied to all food sectors.

CFIA notes that the penalties don’t replace existing inspection and enforcement tools such as issuing written warnings or suspending a processor’s license and closing a plant. Instead, the fines offer the agency another tool to address non-compliance.

In the U.S., food inspectors can issue warning letters or take enforcement actions in the event of a public health hazard, but there is no fine or other penalty structure. The Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA) provides for administrative detention and mandatory recall authority.

Q&A: California Fruit Recall

Wed, 07/23/2014 - 1:01am

How do I know whether the fruit I bought/ate has been recalled?

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has posted a list of all fruits recalled to date from the Wawona Packing Co., including packing numbers, searchable lot codes and Block ID numbers. The agency has also posted photos of the clamshells, boxes and bags the recalled fruit was shipped in or packaged in for retail sale at Costco, Trader Joe’s, Sam’s Clubs and possibly other stores and/or under the Wawona brand, Harvest Sweet or Sweet 2 Eat labels.

The FDA photo pages, along with company photo pages, also show product weights and corresponding UPC numbers for the recalled fruit. If you still can’t be sure if the fruit you bought or have eaten was part of the recall, call the retail outlet where the fruit was purchased and ask.

Where were the recalled fruits distributed?

The July 19 recall announcement from Wawona Packing Co. indicated that the company was not aware of the entire distribution of the recalled fruits:

“The recalled products were shipped directly to retailers and wholesalers who resell the products. Because we do not know the locations of the companies that purchased the products from our direct customers, the company is issuing a nationwide recall,” it stated.

It is known that some of the recalled fruits went to ALDI stores, Trader Joe’s, Costco, Kroger, Walmart and Sam’s Clubs. Subsequent press reports indicate the following stores may have carried the recalled fruit: Food 4 Less, Foods Co., Giant Food Stores, Martins, Hannafords, BJ’s Wholesale, Dillons, Save-a-Lot, Fry’s, King Soopers, Stop & Shop, Big Y Foods, Ralphs and Whole Foods.

Also, exported fruit to Canada and Australia has been impacted.

Wegman’s made several in-store desserts from some of the recalled fruits, which it recalled the next day (July 20).

Are there any other fruits involved in the recall besides conventional and organic yellow and white nectarines, yellow and white peaches, black plums and pluots?

No. Only those varieties of fruit already mentioned are involved in this recall.

If I (or someone I know) has any of the recalled fruits or any of the desserts made from the recalled fruits, what should be done with them?

If possible, return it to the place of purchase for a refund. If not, throw it away.

Are there any confirmed Listeriosis cases in the U.S. related to this recall so far?

As of Tuesday, July 22, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) says that no Listeria cases associated with the recall have been reported to any state health department. Food Safety News published a reader comment on July 21 stating there were such cases in Webster, NY, but the New York State Health Department said Tuesday that there are no laboratory-confirmed cases of Listeria in Webster. A spokesman for the Monroe County Health Department, the county in which Webster is located, also confirmed that on Tuesday.

How can I tell if I or someone I know has been infected by Listeria bacteria?

According to CDC, “a person with Listeriosis usually has fever and muscle aches, sometimes preceded by diarrhea or other gastrointestinal symptoms. Almost everyone who is diagnosed with listeriosis has ‘invasive’ infection, in which the bacteria spread beyond the gastrointestinal tract.” However, the agency notes that symptoms vary with the infected person.” More information is available here.

How long does it take after eating Listeria-contaminated food products before a person develops symptoms of infection?

Listeria’s incubation period (the time from initial exposure to the onset of symptoms) ranges from three to 70 days. Once symptoms are experienced, they can last from several days to several weeks. Some people are infected with Listeria but never experience any symptoms.

What should I do if I or someone I know develops symptoms of Listeriosis?

CDC states that, “If you become very sick with fever and muscle aches or stiff neck, or if you develop fever and chills while pregnant, consult your doctor immediately. A blood or spinal fluid test (to look for the bacteria) will show if you have listeriosis.” See more from CDC on the clinical diagnosis of Listeriosis here.

How does raw fruit get contaminated by Listeria bacteria?

Listeria monocytogenes bacteria is commonly found in soil and water, according to CDC. Animals may also carry it without appearing ill and can contaminate foods of animal origin such as meats and dairy products, or fruits and vegetables grown where they may be exposed to animal feces. Food can also become contaminated by Listeria bacteria in a processing facility.

What is the treatment for Listeriosis?

CDC states that Listeriosis is treated with antibiotics. “A person in a higher-risk category (pregnant woman, older adults, and people with weakened immune systems) who experiences fever and other non-specific symptoms, such as fatigue and aches, within 2 months of eating contaminated food should seek medical care and tell the physician or health care provider about eating the contaminated food.”

However, CDC adds that, “if a person has eaten food contaminated with Listeria and does not have any symptoms, most experts believe that no tests or treatment are needed, even for persons at higher risk for listeriosis.”

Can a person die from Listeriosis?

Yes. “Even with prompt treatment, some listeriosis cases result in death. This is particularly likely in older adults and in persons with other serious medical problems,” CDC states. Pregnant women with Listeriosis often experience stillbirths, and the pathogen is also a threat to persons with compromised immune systems from conditions ranging from HIV/AIDS to cancer survivors who have gone through chemotherapy.

Can Listeria bacteria be killed by cooking?

Yes. Listeria bacteria can be killed by cooking and pasteurization. “However,” the CDC notes, “in some ready-to-eat meats, such as hot dogs and deli meats, contamination may occur after factory cooking but before packaging or even at the deli counter.” Also, refrigeration won’t help because, unlike most bacteria, Listeria can grow and multiply in some foods even at the relatively low temperatures of most refrigerators.

Should I throw away any other fruit that has touched or been stored with the recalled fruit?

To be on the safe side, this is probably a good idea. Be sure to wash your hands with hot water and soap afterward.

Do I need to clean out my refrigerator or any other containers that have stored the recalled fruit?

This is also a good idea to be on the safe side. Clean out the refrigerator and any containers you had the recalled fruit in with a solution of 1 teaspoon bleach to one quart of water and then rinse with plain water. Also wash all food work surfaces and utensils with this solution, let it stand for a few minutes, and then either pat dry with paper towels or rinse with plain water and dry.

(James Andrews, a reporter for Food Safety News, contributed to this article.)

Fruit Recalled for Potential Listeria Contamination, Wegmans Recalls Fruit Desserts

Tue, 07/22/2014 - 3:35pm

A California packing company has voluntarily issued a nationwide recall for several conventional and organic varieties of stone fruits packed between June 1 and July 12 because of possible contamination with Listeria monocytogenes.

Wawona Packing Co. of Cutler, CA, issued a voluntary recall on Saturday of conventional and organic varieties of yellow peaches and nectarines, white peaches and nectarines, black plums and pluots (a plum/apricot hybrid).

On July 21, the Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) issued its own recall of the fruit sold under the Wawona, Sweet 2 Eat or Harvest Sweet brands.

Listeria can cause serious and sometimes fatal infections in young children, frail or elderly people, and others with weakened immune systems. Although healthy individuals may suffer only short-term symptoms such as high fever, severe headache, stiffness, nausea, abdominal pain and diarrhea, Listeria infection can cause miscarriages and stillbirths among pregnant women.

The recalled products were shipped directly to retailers and wholesalers who resell the products and were shipped in both bags and boxes.

The recalled products can be identified by a list and photographs. Anyone who has the recalled products in their possession should not consume them and should discard them. Consumers with questions may contact Wawona Packing at 1-888-232-9912, Monday through Friday, 8 a.m. t0 5 p.m. EDT, or visit www.wawonapacking.com for a copy of the company’s press release.

Wawona Packing has already notified its business customers and requested that they remove the recalled products from commerce. The company is voluntarily recalling these products in consultation with the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.

The recall was initiated based on internal company testing. The company stated that it shut down the implicated packing lines, retrofitted equipment, sanitized the facility and retested, and that subsequent daily test results have been negative.

After the Wawona recall was issued, Wegmans, a NY-based supermarket chain with stores in NY, PA, MA, MD, NJ and VA, announced Sunday that it was recalling several in-store baked desserts sold from June 1-20 because they may contain fresh peaches, nectarines and plums supplied by the CA packing company.

These desserts include various cakes, pies, tarts and other pastries and are labeled with a store-printed scale label that will identify the product and UPC. A full list of the recalled items is available here.

Customers who purchased the recalled products from Wegmans between June 1 and July 20 should discard the product at home and visit the service desk and identify the product for a full refund.